Why It is Important to Know Your Audience When Writing Your College Essay

Have you ever seen a movie that includes a scene from a college admissions committee? Typically, in the media, admissions counselors are portrayed as older men sitting around a table “judging” admissions essays and applications. In fact, admissions counselors represent all ages, are often from diverse backgrounds, have friendly demeanors and hold a variety of interests. When you write a college essay, it is important to think about your audience.

 

 

Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t expect the admissions counselor to be familiar with the subject you are writing about. They may not have studied physics or be a music fanatic like you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write on that subject but making specific references that only an expert in the subject would know will likely go over their head. Describe the “why” of the topic instead. Why are you interested in it? Why does it mean something to you?  Rather than trying to spout knowledge, know that your admissions audience would rather learn about you, the applicant.
  •  Dont expect that the admissions counselor will know the acronyms you are using. While most admissions counselors are familiar with common ones like NHS (National Honor Society) they may not be familiar with a club that is specific to your school or town.
  • Never speak negatively about another institution, who knows- maybe the admissions counselor went there for their undergraduate college!
  • Remember that admissions counselors read hundreds of essays. They like to be entertained. Whether that means making them laugh, cry, or simply catching their attention, by knowing your audience  you should realize that by the time they get to yours, their eyes may be glazing over. Think about how you will catch their attention and keep it for the couple minutes they spend on your application.
  • Admissions counselors don’t want to feel like they are being lectured to. For example, when they ask questions about political issues or books that concern or challenge you, they aren’t looking to get a lecture on the subject. They want to know your connection to it and what that issue means to you. They want to see your critical thinking skills and potential for contributing to their classroom.
  • Watch your language. Remember, you don’t want to offend your reader.
  • Knowing your audience does not mean you have to change your topic. If you are a passionate liberal and concerned that the person reading your application may be conservative that’s okay. If you are from a certain religious background and worried that the reader may not be religious, don’t worry. Admissions counselors are more concerned with your writing ability and the story you are telling about yourself than a particular stance you take. Sometimes, showing a determination and a strong interest in the subject matter may actually be to your benefit.
So, the moral of this story is take time to understand your audience. You never know who might be on the other side of your application.
Cara Ray

About the Author

Cara is a Senior Associate with the firm. She worked for many years as a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Colorado. She is a leader in the field, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Rocky Mountain Association of College Admission Counselors. A graduate of Colgate University, Cara also earned a Masters in higher education from the University of Denver, specializing in student development.

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